The Playdate

Lorna, the mother of a twin sweet-faced autistic preschoolers, invited Live and me over for a playdate. We stepped into a front room congested with abandoned gym equipment and sagging, scraped furniture. Intersecting metal bars and padded surfaces formed a tight network of tunnels that beckoned my autistic explorer.  Liev scrabbled through the jumble to examine the speedometer of a tilted stationary bike. I recovered him wearing a look of wonder on his face, too stunned to protest his removal.   He had never seen so many things jumbled together.

We followed Lorna to the play area, a converted garage, half of which was partitioned off by waist-high, slightly sinister metal bars.  The room looked as if she had just shoveled an extra-large shipment of shattered and dismembered toys into it. My young son stood in awestruck silence as he beheld the ultimate choking hazard grazing field.  

Lorna snapped the gate behind the children and took a series of mundane, chatty phone calls.  Distracted by images of imagined basement parkour and Heimlich maneuvers, I did not mind.   Before I could vault over the bars and freerun back to the car with Liev, Lorna turned her attention to me.

A discussion of the difficulty of special needs parenting commenced.  Parenting autistic twins and the expense of their suspicious treatments topped her topics of conversations. She recounted the milestones they missed breathlessly; with the enthusiasm one expects at a sporting event. Every obstacle electrified her, as if we competed in a strange race, which she was winning.

As she sprinted towards the finish line, she proselytized about the strings of improbable medications and dubious supplements her children took. Her eyes glittered with such fervor; I thought she might hold me down and suck out my vaccinations, vampire style.

As she lectured, I watched the kids crunch over toys in their little autistic zoo. Sadness swept over me.  Her children were discarded, broken things, set aside until they were fixed.  Perhaps then they would be good enough for their family. This is why autism acceptance is dear to me. Autism is not an illness or epidemic but a different way of being. It is a part of human diversity deserving of dignity, accommodation, and critical thought.

Lorna represents a particular type of autism parent—the Me First Parent.  The parent stuck in a selfish circle of their own needs—their need to talk on the phone, their need to out-suffer others, their need to gain attention for themselves. How could Lorna chat so aimlessly on the phone and not make her children’s space healthier? 

Life is about growing, not treatment. We bear our son’s needs with patience and good cheer. Our job is to keep him safe and happy. Our job is to teach him skills on his timeline.  Most of all, our job is to love and accept him.

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